GOP presses Treasury secretary on $400M payment to Iran

GOP presses Treasury secretary on $400M payment to Iran
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Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) sent a letter to the Treasury Department on Wednesday, seeking answers to the Obama administration's $400 million cash payment to Iran in January. 

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew obtained first by The Hill, Pompeo wrote that the payment might have broken the law. 

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"While the principle behind the payment is disturbing, the logistics and methodology by which it occurred seems to have at least skirted, or outright broken the law," he said in the letter sent to Lew on Wednesday. 

President Obama announced the payment on Jan. 17 as the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement resolving a dispute over an arms deal with Iran signed before the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent fall of the shah.

However, the payment has come under fresh scrutiny after The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that it was made in Swiss francs and other currencies, with the cash loaded onto pallets in an unmarked cargo plane and flown to Iran. 

Pompeo, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and several Republican senators said those measures may have broken existing U.S. law, which they said prohibits the transfer of U.S. assets — directly and indirectly — to Iran. 

Pompeo asked Lew, in a list of 13 questions, to explain how the transaction was able to take place, whether any legal determinations were made and whether Treasury officials raised any objections to the payment. 

"Was the payment's legality in regards to Iran sanctions, the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, or other laws ever determined?" he asked. 

"Did Treasury issue any sort of waiver, license, or other means of approval to authorize this method of payment to the Iranians?" he asked. "Did Treasury seek or receive a legal justification for release of these funds from the Department of Justice or any other agency?" 

The payment also coincided with Iran's release of four Americans that it had detained, prompting criticism that it was a "ransom" payment, which would violate longstanding U.S. policy. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that a senior Justice Department official objected to the payment over concern that it would be perceived by Iran as a ransom. 

The administration has argued that the timing of the payment was coincidental and had to do with the resolution of outstanding issues after a deal was reached with Iran on its nuclear program and the easing of sanctions on the nation.

The Aug. 17 letter follows an earlier correspondence between Pompeo and the State Department on the $1.7 billion settlement.

"In refusing to answer simple questions about this money, and in withholding details about the payment, the administration appears to be adding to the long list of half-truths, inconsistencies and falsehoods it has told the American people and Congress regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," he wrote. 

"President Obama himself said that the payment 'feels like some spy novel or ... crime novel.' The American people deserver transparency, particularly in instances where large cash payments are being made to sanctioned nations such as the Islamic Republican of Iran," he wrote. 

"As Iran still [holds] three U.S. citizens, your prompt response is appreciated," he wrote.